The love of a dog came late to me. There were previous dog flings, but their hearts belonged to particular humans who were not me. That was until the advent of Basil (who is now a 4 year old brindle Staffie) and best described as a gremlin-tokolosh-honey badger-cane rat-seal- thugbaby-demonangel-scud missile.
He was in fact chosen for my daughter, Hannah who refers to him ironically as ‘the Gift’. (Hannah actually wanted a teacup Yorkie, not a gremlin-tokolosh-scud missile but that’s another story. Pete wanted a female Staffie and I didn’t want a dog at all). Because he was to be a gift and companion to my daughter, and despite my reluctance to have a dog, I selected him with great attention to detail. I carried out random surprise visits at the homes of the owners of his older brothers and sisters from a previous litter and insisted on temperament and character references. I spent time with his father. I was very annoying. I stipulated that it was a condition of purchase that Basil should remain with his mummy until he was 8 weeks old so that he could have her undivided attention for 2 extra weeks and learn proper social skills and etiquette. The owners rolled their eyes. They were heartily sick of both me and puppies by this stage.
From when I met Basil at 4 weeks, until the day he was pronounced ready to leave the nest, I regularly visited him at his original home, played with him and his siblings (observed that he was very advanced, comparatively, just saying) and admired his guinea pig-like charm, his warm puppy breath, his roly poly tummy and his hilarious antics. When we finally brought him home Hannah panicked, like many new mothers, and immediately dropped him on his head from pure anxiety. (From shoulder height…on a tiled floor.) It was more or less at that instant that I realised Basil was in fact mine. And that he had special needs (which may of may not be related to having been dropped on his head). I was a conscientious though initially reluctant mother.…
It was apparent almost immediately that Basil preferred full and constant body contact. Really. So much so that he would have chosen a kango pouch as his preferred mode of transport. He would constantly be at my side, pressing his face against my leg, following me to the bathroom, resting his chin in the hammock conveniently created by one’s knickers for that very purpose and gazing at me with undisguised reverence. At night he liked to lie with his fat warm puppy body pressed against my back and his head tucked into my neck. In moments of fretfulness he would suck my earlobe. I was disconcertingly enchanted by this combo of neediness and adoration which would ordinarily appall me. Basil would weep if I left the room. If he was a person this kind of behavior would have horrified me. Had Basil been a person he would have made me deeply uneasy. (In fact, if Basil was person, I would have immediately applied for a restraining order and changed all my locks.)
I am sure I should never have allowed the level of emotional dependence that developed in the first few weeks of cohabitation, but I did. And soon there was no going back. Once I had become accustomed to the Basil-induced puppy-love happiness-chemicals fizzing through my bloodstream, the reassuring, warm bulk, the familiar smell of him, I was a goner. I can’t fully explain the love I have for my dog. It makes my chest hurt. But it also makes me weak with laughter. I love the way he adores my family. He has a vantage point near the front door where he can keep an eye on the driveway and he takes up his position there quivering with all the uncool yearning we are ourselves so unwilling to acknowledge when a much loved person is away. He can recognize the sound of Pete’s bakkie from a km away and he explodes out of the front door, orders the bakkie to a halt as it enters the driveway and leaps into Pete’s lap. He is utterly unable to wait an extra second to cover him with frenzied welcome-home licks. In the moment when he catches his first glimpse of Hannah in the morning he practically levitates with joy and excitement. His tail whips about so frantically that it becomes a blur, like a helicopter prop. It eventually propels him forward and he dives at her, rooting around under her duvet and covering her with desperate, urgent kisses. When he is at last able to bring his frantic affection under some semblance of control he sits on her triumphantly. Beaming with every atom of his solid being. He is aggressively affectionate. I love the hero’s welcome we all receive. Every day. Whether I return from being gone a minute a day or a week. There is no resentment, no passive aggression, no self-pity, even when he knows I’ve been running without him on the beach or fraternising with other dogs. Nothing but unconditional and undemanding passion. Basil is my most adoring fan. He is utterly overwhelmed by my magnificence even when I am decidedly not magnificent. He is more devoted and admiring than my mother. (Much more in fact.)
Basil loves to cruise around the neighborhood in my bakkie, go on errands and join the school run. He likes to stand with his back feet on the back seat and his front half balanced on the centre consul between the front seats. This enables him to freely lick the faces of both people sitting in front while not losing touch with the folk in the back. I am the local taxi in my community and always fill my vehicle with hitching pedestrians, so the presence of my co-driver created some tension: at first he was not a draw card. Folk would gratefully open the door in anticipation of a lift only to recoil in terror when greeted by Basil’s toothy grin. But slowly he has won the hearts of the commuters and now he is welcomed with open arms as he leaps into the back seat and cruises from passenger to passenger (sort of like royalty) bestowing urgent kisses and beaming from ear to ear. My passengers all mock him terribly (Awu, uBay-zil he is not a dog he is a baby) and me (“UMama ka Bay-zil”) especially when word got out that he has a vet/clinic card (Yhhuuuu hayibo! Kunjao, UBay-zil ngumtana!) There is a lot of laughter in my bakkie, much of it at my expense and uBay-zil has much to do with it.
Basil is massively predictable and he loves routines. His favorite time of the day is morning tea and rusks in bed (after having greeted Hannah and received his extended morning tickle from each of us.) He settles down sandwiched between Pete’s knees in bed awaiting the last crumb of rusk and the last sip of tea which he visibly yearns for with every atom of his being. He Loves birthdays and Christmas and any rituals that involve ripping up gift wrap and he enters into every celebration with absolute joy. He loves the chopped off top of a butternut and waits expectantly for it to be passed to him from the kitchen counter and then does flick flacks around the house repeatedly tossing it over his head, pouncing on it and shaking his head violently with the offending butternut in his jaws. His greatest passion, other than his family, is the beach. He eloquently announces that it is time to proceed to The Place if we have made no move in that direction by late afternoon. Beaches are for cavorting, dog play dates and dipping his stout chassis in the ocean to cool down. They are also about ROCKS. He is extremely single minded about chasing rocks. We have tried everything to get him to consider an alternative passion. Lectured him endlessly about his teeth being reduced to fangless gums. But he wants rocks with a single-minded desperation. He prostrates himself on the sand (in the child’s pose) with every cell in his body focused on the flinging of the rock then explodes after it like an arrow released from a bow. Nothing else exists for him. He would chase the flung rocks until he died exhausted but utterly elated. He exists completely and exclusively in the moment. He is a masterclass in mindfulness. I wish I had his wholehearted focus. (Fortunately he has recently learned to fish. This involves sprinting after schools of tiny fish in pools and then jumping on them. Fishing is performed with the same focus as rocking.)
There are certain things that Basil abhors. He has a long standing feud with the vervet monkeys, especially the blue balled male who thinks he is in charge. Basil trembles with violent outrage when the evil vervets taunt him from the wild strelitzia. The bravery of being out of range. He is also incensed by our retro 80’s soda stream machine and every time he sees it (and especially when it releases its outrageous stream of gas), he violently attacks it making a noise of total outrage: a cross between the shriek of a tropical parrot and a ululating wail of pure agony. He is convinced that moths and mosquitoes are the source of all non-monkey related wickedness and launches himself into the air to eliminate them like a flying great white shark. We take tremendous comfort from his predictability.
Basil’s eyes are deep amber and able to articulate the entire range of emotion. They seem (to me only) to be full of ancient wisdom and profound empathy. (At this point Hannah is sticking her finger down her throat and making retching noises) because Basil is also (mainly) a complete thug. He gets grumpy at night when he’s tired, snaps at our feet if he feels we should have one more walk, burps rudely and hoovers up all manner of disgusting detritus he finds on the beach (despite his expensive raw food regime). He regularly eliminates the kind of green-fog farts that stop us in our tracks. He is also mean to the cat. I have to reprimand him for ganging up on his long suffering cat companion when dog friends visit. I have explained repeatedly that this is an integrity issue. To no avail. (At least he has the good grace to look embarrassed.)
I sometimes experience moments of unadulterated body numbing grief when I consider the reality of a life without him one day. I’m not sure I will be able to bear the pain of it. We can hold onto the reassuring myth that our children and partners are obliged to outlast us, but barring some accident or illness I know I will almost certainly outlast Basil. How will I bear this? How will we bear it as a family? (I mean other than the cat.)I have no idea. The pain of the absence of this perpetual, adoring, hilarious presence is almost unthinkable. Will it have been worth it? Absolutely.
“Dogs are how people would be if the important stuff is all that mattered to us.” – Ashly Lorenzana